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The Raptors are better than the Pacers, and it's showing

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Game 3 sent a clear message: the second-seeded Raptors are not here to mess around with the Pacers, who are starting to look like the inferior team.

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After a second straight rout at the hands of Miami on Wednesday, Hornets head coach Steve Clifford shared some coaching wisdom with the media. He was asked, as many coaches are after a loss, about what adjustments he would make to better defend the opposition.

What's the takeaway here, beyond the vomit-inducing points total by the Heat? That adjustments aren't always necessary, not if your team has the talent to compete with your opposition. Clifford is sharing the idea that sometimes you don't need to do your job different to do it better.

Looking at the Raptors, maybe moving on from an angst-ridden loss to the Pacers in Game 1 wasn't about doing things differently. Maybe, as a 56-win team, it was just about being better. It was about Kyle Lowry getting on the floor for loose balls and drawing charges. It was about DeMar DeRozan making a few tough mid-range jumpers. It was about Jonas Valanciunas grinding it out on the inside. It was about Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross making shots, while staying active defensively.

In Monday's Game 2, some of these started to happen, and our sphincters collectively loosened. That helped cleanse the angst. Last night, the Raptors removed it completely. Beating the Pacers 101-85, Game 3 showed fans that this isn't another flame-out Raptors team. This is the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and they're up against the seventh seed -- an Indiana Pacers team that showed little emotion or desire during their late-season push for a playoff spot. In this game, the home team came out flat, while the Raptors came out energetic.

That energy was the story, causing mayhem to the tune of 17 Pacers turnovers. Toronto also out-rebounded Indiana by seven, taking an amazing 36 more shots than the Pacers on the night. Even better, they held Indiana to 38% on their paltry 68 attempts.

This all frustrated the hell out of Indiana and their fans. Even with the Pacers continuing to hold and grab at Raptors players, they played victim to the officials. Both Paul George and Myles Turner picked up technicals, with the latter throwing a menacing "fight me" look at DeMar DeRozan in the second half. A fan also threw a mini basketball onto the court, surely the most mature expression of anger an adult can think of.

Even as they more than doubled Toronto in free throw attempts (33 to 16), Indiana looked shaken by the Raptors' intensity on defense. Blame it on the officials if you must, but this wasn't the root of the home team's challenges.

Anchoring that Raptors defense, or at least getting the marquee matchup, was DeMarre Carroll. Scoring 17 points in 35 minutes, he blew by the minutes cap set for him at the beginning of this series and played a solid foil to Paul George, who generally struggled to make shots that were falling in Games 1 and 2. George was just 6-for-19, while George Hill and Monta Ellis were a combined 6-for-16. No way is Indiana winning without those three shooting better, which makes the job all that much easier for the Toronto defense. Contest shots, guard the three-point line, and trust Valanciunas and Biyombo to deter shots at the rim. This algorithm has worked in the first round, and Carroll emerged as a star player in accomplishing that last night.

On the offensive end, DeMar DeRozan showed up for a few minutes with Ellis guarding him, then sank back into his shell when the assignment fell to George. A 4-for-6 start deteriorated into a 7-for-19 finish, as we're still left wanting for a more pass-happy version of DeRozan. The other continuing struggle is Kyle Lowry's jump shot, as he went just 8-for-21. Continuing to bring the intangibles though, Lowry offset his poor shooting by making others better. He had eight assists and was a +18 on Thursday, DeRozan had three assists and was a -1.

As a team, the Raptors also took advantage (once again) of those inexplicable minutes where Frank Vogel plays an all-bench lineup. With only Ty Lawson and Rodney Stuckey standing in their way, Lowry and the bench unit pushed the Raptors lead to double digits in the second quarter. The team never looked back.

Even in the midst of a lead that swelled beyond 20, there's still (sorry, Steve Clifford) adjustments that Casey needs to make. Luis Scola played almost 16 minutes, a stretch that Vogel looked to take advantage of by testing two new lineups -- one with Turner at power forward next to Mahinmi, and one with George filling Larry Bird's deepest desires.

Scola, who has made just three shots in three games, isn't adding a lot to the Raptors attack. To his credit, he's not a deterrent to the Raptors offense. He's generally amicable to the scheme: he keeps the ball moving, takes open shots dutifully, and gets decent rebounding position. He's also playing ahead of a firecracker in Patterson, who has played his ass off in this series. Casey needs to realize that basketball is more important than veteran presence, and we're long overdue to see Scola's minutes diminished to a maximum of 8-9 a night.

There's also still, I feel, a place for Norman Powell in this series. Even if Carroll is able to play 30-35 minutes per night -- he may not on Saturday afternoon with short rest -- Powell gives a different look to Paul George and keeping him involved continues his development for games where he might be needed more. A four-out lineup with Carroll at the four and Powell at the three continues to show up in my dreams. It'd be very interesting to see Casey try that out at some point.

Here, he addresses Carroll and the other storylines from the game.

For Casey though, those adjustments are the icing on the cake in this first round series. They've proven over two games now that they can beat the Pacers in spite of some interesting rotation decisions. If the Raptors are going to go far in this post-season, though, they will need to both play to their potential and make adjustments in the process.

Right now? They can afford to choose one or the other. They're just that good.